Favela Supporter Airs Skeptical View of Rio’s Olympic Preparations

By Andrew Revkin and Elise Vaux

Preparing for our filming trip to Brazil, we contacted Theresa Williamson, the founder of Catalytic Communities, a nonprofit group in Rio that helps empower the city’s informal favela communities. She wrote last year in The New York Times about “missed opportunities” in the city’s rush to clean up and build in advance of the World Cup this year and Olympics in 2016.

Here’s a video in which Williamson explains her work.

By Skype we asked her a couple of fresh questions:  

Q. Where do you think the country and city are in terms of preparations for the World Cup?

A. I don’t see that as the issue. Brazil is used to pulling off big events. The issue is rather that the city and country use the event as a pretext for doing things that are anti-democratic. The events create a deadline and “opportunity” for policies and interventions that would not normally go forward or be approved.

Q. So it sounds like government officials (city and/or federal) have used the games (including the Olympics) as a pretext for “cleaning” problematic areas, moving people around, etcetera?

A. The concerns over “whether Brazil will be ready” are actually useful from the perspective of the authorities because they give them power to push forward at any cost with interventions that are unnecessary or unrelated but sold as being necessary or related.

In all Olympics and World Cup cities this happens. They provide a deadline and a set of externally imposed rules that local authorities and people in establishment positions can use as an opportunity to push forward whatever visions they have.

In the case of Rio this involves primarily mass displacement, either through forced evictions, consensual relocations or gentrification.

There are seemingly positive policy interventions too, but unfortunately they all have problematic negative outcomes or side effects, as well, sometimes overwhelming the seemingly positive intention.

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